Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tina Fey Doesn't Quite Get It

Oliver Willis points to this back-and-forth with Tina Fey that shows she doesn't quite get it.

Like Oliver, I think Fey's 30 Rock is very funny, and Mean Girls was pretty good too. But she protests too much when elevating Saturday Night Live (SNL) and bashing The Daily Show (TDS).

I posted this comment at Oliver's site but wanted to memorialize it here by pasting it below.

Wow thanks for pointing that out, Oliver. Probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.

With SNL rising in public consciousness recently, I’ve thought a bit about the differences between SNL and TDS. (And merlallen, above, is right — SNL is rarely funny anymore and I’m not sure anyone really watches it out of anything other than habit.)

SNL, after a few lunatic first few seasons when it seemed they would try nearly anything, has retreated to standard lame sketches. Many are parodies of television shows, and many try to create a character and dessicate it into a catch phrase so that people are meant to assume it’s funny through sheer repetition.

In the Weekend Update segment on SNL, one gets the feeling that if they could make fat jokes, dick jokes, and jokes about the most superficial aspects of political figures, they would be fine with that.

TDS doesn’t deal so much with political figures as with a lampooning of the media. The absurdity usually springs from the disconnect between the issues being covered and the way our braindead media brings them to us. Also, a lot of TDS comedy relies on a fairly sophisticated understanding of what is going on with actual issues, whether in Congress, on the campaign trail, etc.

So, while SNL will have people impersonating actual media personalities (politicians like HRC and BHO, newspeople like Russert and Brian Williams), and generally doesn’t do delve much deeper than “See, he sounds like Russert! Funny, right?” TDL puts the media stereotypes (Generic Expert on Everything; reporter-who-is-parachuted-in, etc) to satirize the broader media culture. We swim in an entirely different media culture from the one that spawned SNL (3 broadcast channels PBS), but SNL seems to have the same take on comedy that settled in decades ago.

I’m sure TDL will wear thin someday, and sooner if they don’t adapt their take to new situations. But SNL already has worn thin and they’ve taken their comedy right back to the sad SNL years of the early eighties but refuse to die.

The main SNL political comedy writer, Jim Downey, is 55 years old. He’s been writing similar stuff for SNL, on-and-off, for 25-30 years. I doubt if he’s capable of developing a new approach to his material.

Also, Downey is conservative and a republican, but if he were funny that could be forgiven I guess.

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